Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings Milwaukee

The Wholeness of Timeless Building Design: Embracing People and Place in the Web of Nature

Mar 01, 2012 03:00PM ● By Linda Sechrist

There is a process through which the order of a building or a town grows out directly from the inner nature of the people, and the animals, and plants, and matter, which are in it. ~ Christopher Alexander, The Timeless Way of Building

According to internationally known architect Christopher Alexander, there is a timeless way of building. It is the same today as it was thousands of years ago, when people created the great traditional buildings, villages and temples, places in which people still feel most at home. In his book, The Timeless Way of Building, the Emeritus Professor of Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, proposes that designing and building with an integrative “pattern language” may make it less challenging to create great buildings or beautiful places where we can feel truly alive.

The process of pattern language, as Alexander describes it, “…allows the life inside a person, or a family, or a town, to flourish openly, in freedom, so vividly that it gives birth of its own accord to the natural order, which is needed to sustain life.” This human-enhancing paradigm in architecture, which he introduced in 1977, is embraced locally by The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc. (TKWA), a planning and design firm that specializes in sustainable design and historic preservation. Although TKWA is located in Cedarburg, the company has completed projects throughout the world.

“The writings of Christopher Alexander form a great part of our studio philosophy,” says Wayne Reckard, the director of interpretive planning and business development. “In fact, The Nature of Order, his seminal essay on the art of building and the nature of the universe, is a constant source of inspiration and guidance in our search for meaning and beauty.”

TKWA’s respect for this award-winning architect’s “whole systems approach” is evident throughout their website, where Alexander is often directly quoted or his philosophies are reflected in their own. For example, in the elegant redefining of “the interconnectedness of all things” as ‘wholeness,’ the firm adopted Alexander’s timeless approach of inviting people to come together to create something alive and vibrant. “We gleaned from ancient and contemporary philosophers, scientists who specialized in quantum physics, and architects such as Aldo Leopold, who were interested in designing buildings with a soul,” says Reckard.

Considered by many as the father of wildlife management and of the United States’ wilderness system, Leopold was a conservationist, forester, philosopher, educator, writer and outdoor enthusiast.Leopold Legacy Center is the first building recognized by LEED as a ‘zero net energy’ building ~ ©The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc. In “A Land Ethic,” the concluding essay of his landmark 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac: And Sketches Here and There, he defined a new relationship between people and nature and set the stage for the modern conservation movement. His legacy continues to inform and inspire us to see the natural world, “…as a community to which we belong.”

What are the benefits of practicing such a philosophy for planning designs that range from nature and interpretive centers, museums and offices to urban, commercial, hospitality, recreation, higher education, religious and historic/ adaptive reuse projects? TKWA has been honored with significant industry awards, including a 61-point LEED Platinum rating—one of the U.S. Green Building Council’s highest to date—for The Leopold Legacy Center, near Baraboo. “It is the first building recognized by LEED as carbon neutral in operation, and as a ‘zero net energy’ building,” advises Reckard.

“We try to integrate sustainability into all our projects, but more than that, we are about creating life-enhancing places where, when you enter, you feel welcomed, alive and whole,” Reckard explains. “We don’t restrict ourselves to certain building types, because we’re more interested in a process of designing that fits into the environment and supports human activity, which is counterintuitive to the way architecture is taught.” This design approach has led TKWA to a diverse range of projects including the Urban Ecology Center, Schlitz Audubon Nature Center, Milwaukee Public Market and Growing Power.

The Urban Ecology Center

The Urban Ecology Center was completed on a scale and within a budget that is achievable with the use of practical, repeatable design ideas and techniques. A key feature is its important connection to a variety of outdoor spaces. Schoolchildren use the balconies, tower, roof garden, and other outdoor spaces for classes or spontaneous discussion as many of the typical barriers to connecting with the outdoors are greatly diminished.

Schlitz Audubon Nature Center

Situated on 185 acres along the shores of Lake Michigan, the new Schlitz Audubon Nature Center opened to the public in 2003. Once a pristine lakefront prairie and woodland, the site was logged and turned into horse pasture during the early 1900s. In 1971, the site became a nature preserve.

TKWA was hired to design a new building to replace an aging structure the center had outgrown. The goal was to design a facility that preserves the natural sanctuary of the site and helps educate the public about environmental stewardship. Key sustainable features include a stable, well-insulated building shell that minimizes temperature fluctuations; roof-mounted photovoltaics; natural daylight and ventilation; and use of siteharvested timbers. A restored native prairie covers an extensive geothermal heating/cooling system and helps manage stormwater runoff while supporting overall site biodiversity.

Milwaukee Public Market

The Milwaukee Public Market offers a dynamic community gathering place and visitor destination. The design of this venue, where local farmers and specialty food vendors sell their wares, reflects traditional ideas expressed in contemporary form, with steel, glass and brick honoring the industrial history of Milwaukee’s Third Ward.

The market’s environmentally sensitive design incorporates high-performance glass and sun louvers for sun control and relies upon cool daylighting to reduce artificial lighting and lower HVAC costs.

Growing Power

Growing Power, Inc. is an internationally recognized nonprofit organization and land trust helping people from diverse backgrounds gain equal access to healthy, high-quality, safe and affordable food. The organization provides hands-on training, outreach and technical assistance through the development of Community Food Systems that help people grow, process, market and distribute Design for world's first working five-story, urban vertical farm ~ ©The Kubala Washatko Architects, in a sustainable manner.

The organization has expanded and now needs additional space to support production, classes, meetings, meal preparation, offices and on-site warehousing. Growing Power and TKWA are currently working together to develop plans for an ambitious new facility: the world’s first working five-story, urban vertical farm.

Such a timeless way of building, suggests Alexander, seeks to build a thing not in isolation, but rather to, “…repair the world around it, and within it, so that the larger world at that one place becomes more coherent, and more whole; and the thing which you make takes its place in the web of nature, as you make it.” And, who among us could not benefit from feeling more human and alive in this kind of a built environment?

The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc., W61 N617 Mequon Ave., Cedarburg. For more information, call 262-377-6039 or visit

Upcoming Events Near You
Global Brief
Health Brief